Flexibility Experiment, Part 6: Before and After

Published October 12, 2009 in Physical Performance - 9 Comments

Title2

My first 30-day experiment has now run it’s course and it’s time to post the results. The experiment consisted of me doing Resistance Stretching exercises for 30 days, every day. Unfortunately, there was a small glitch along the way: I paused the experiment for four days due to a minor knee-injury. To compensate, I extended the experiment by four days, so I hope you agree that it still counts as a 30-day experiment. Now, let’s take a look at the before-and-after pics and the measurement data, before we get to my conclusion of the experiment:

Before and After

The following pictures simply show a comparison of my benchmark stretches done before I started the experiment (and posted here, previously) and the pictures of the same stretches after the experiment.

SPLIT

SplitM

For the central split, I did make a bit of progress, but it’s still uncomfortable to hold and it’s not as much progress as I had hoped for. Before the experiment, I would mainly feel tension in the muscles being stretched. By now, it feels more like my hip joints are hitting the limits of their mobility.

SIDEWAYS SPLIT, LEFT

Sideways Split Left

For the sideways split, I definitely experienced some progress, especially concerning the flexibility of my hamstrings.

SIDEWAYS SPLIT, RIGHT

Sideways Split Right

Interestingly, my results for the sideways splits were different, depending on which side I was facing. On the pictures, it’s hard to tell, but it will be clear to see once we look at the data. What surprised me about this is that before the experiment, I got identical results for facing left or right. Now, after the experiment, my flexibility for the sideways stretch is asymmetrical, even though I tried to stretch both sides equally. I really don’t know how this happened, but it’s an interesting observation.

TOE TOUCH

Toe Touch

The toe-touch improved slightly, but not dramatically. Since I didn’t relax my neck properly when I took the “before”-picture, the progress looks a bit exaggerated here. But you can see that I made a bit of “real” progress by how much my arms are bent in each pic.

JOINING HANDS BEHIND BACK

Joining Hands Stretch

Before the experiment, I noticed a distinct asymmetry in my arms’ flexibility: With my right arm, I couldn’t reach behind my back as easily as with my left arm. Resistance Stretching seems to have smoothed out most of this asymmetry, as is apparent in the above pictures. Reaching behind my back still doesn’t feel as comfortable with my right arm as with my left arm, but it’s noticeably better than before the experiment.

MEASUREMENT DATA

Before (cm) After (cm) Before (in) After (in)
Split 46 35 18.1 13.8
Sideways Split, left 21 18 8.3 7.1
Sideways Split, right 21 15 8.3 5.9
Toe Touch 36 30 14.2 11.8
Improvement (cm) Improvement (in)
Split 11 4.3
Sideways Split, left 3 1.2
Sideways Split, right 6 2.4
Toe Touch 6 2.4

Conclusion

I have to say that I am not entirely happy with the outcome. While I did improve my flexibility in all aspects measured, none of the improvements were dramatic. More importantly, I think I would have gotten similar results with traditional stretching techniques, had I done those every day for 30 days (although I can’t know for sure). Here’s where it would be really handy to have a clone as a control.
The problem is that the book (Genius of Flexibility) hopelessly overhypes the method it describes. While it’s normal and expected that any author will hype his own methods, Genius of Flexibility just goes too far. From a method that promises instant, never before seen improvements to your flexibility from the moment you start using it, you just expect more than a few inches shaved off your split after 30 days of daily practice. The book also promises that Resistance Stretching is a miracle-cure-for-everything (as I mentioned in this post). Surprise! It isn’t. Again, this is not completely unexpected, but it makes me wonder why all those claims should even be included in the first place? I think if the book’s premise had simply been “here’s a new stretching technique that will yield decent results and doesn’t take much time to do” I  would have been quite happy with it. I would have still bought it and I would have gotten what I was promised.

Moving On

Having said all that, I must add that I’m not ready to conclude my Resistance Stretching experiment just yet. After all i did get results and Resistance Stretching takes less time than traditional stretching, so it does have it’s advantages. As a stretching exercise for martial arts (which is what I’m stretching for) it’s still the best I’ve encountered so far. Another way to put that is: My experience with stretching exercises in general has been quite underwhelming.
I will be experimenting with using Resistance Stretching with a partner, next. I suspect that doing the exercises with someone to help might yield much better results. It might also be more fun. I’ll let you know how that goes and update the results, if anything update-worthy transpires.

Part 1: The Problem with Stretching
Part 2: Introducing Resistance Stretching
Part 3: Method and Benchmarks
Part 4: Q&A with Anne Tierney, Resistance Stretching Expert
Part 5: Update and Subjective Impressions
Part 6: Before and After (currently viewing)

  • This is a cool experiment. Interesting how sometimes your flexibility became more symmetrical and sometimes became asymmetrical. I think because you seemed reasonably flexible in the first place, it may have been harder to get dramatic results. Also, some people’s hip joints have less flexibility than others.

    • Thanks! Yes, my hip joints aren’t very cooperative. I’ve actually always had some difficulties with my joints, but I think it’s all kept at bay by the fact that I’ve always exercised regularly.

  • Hi
    i´m brazilian and i saw a message of you on the wordpress forum about a problem on you blog. I´m with the same problem and don´t know what to do. What did you do to fix it? can you contact via e-mail? mine: rodrigocarreiro@gmail.com
    thanks

  • Alpaca

    Hey… so I’m comment on the posts as I read the (part 4,5,6).

    My thoughts

    1. For central split, as I mentioned before – multiple muscles can actually get in the way… so even though the split is primarily the groin/adductors… if you feel like you hip flexor (psoas) are getting in the way, that’s what you need to stretch first (then move to the adductors). I usually do psoa, quad, hamstring and psoas again (now that the hamstring and quad are out of the way), glut and then adductor. Notice how sometimes you need to go back to a muscles as like muscles have overlapping layers of tightness once you have gotten the major issues out of the way.

    2. I too have noticed assymetries in flexilibity (my right legs always seems to be tighter). Tom puts this down to assymetrical conditioning / training / preference (like I assume you favor/train more with right-handed stances if you are right handed). Life you I noticed a distince different in flexilibilty for joining arm behind back (my right side is much easier than the left, and I’m left handed…). Tom says for me this is likely due to tightness in my lat muscle on the left side and we’ve evened it out a little (but it hasn’t been a priority).

    3. I agree with your assessment that Resistance stretching typically does not dramatically increase you overall flexibility. I do think that is dramatically improves your “muscle functionality” (only way I can describe it). Basically six months ago… I just turned 30 and felt like I was “getting old”… my body just wasn’t responding and recovering like it used to under intensive conditioning and use and I was getting nagging aches and soreness and fatiguing (compared to when I was younger)… now I feel like I did when I was in my early twenties (well mostly). I’m 100% sure if I had use traditional stretching techniques, I wouldn’t feel this way. That is to say I might have a little bit more passive range of motion (i.e. I could lower myself more into a central or side split), I would have as much activity mobility (the light feeling you get in your hips during your kicks you mentioned).

    I realize that extreme flexilibty it is important for martial arts. (I took karate and TKD as a kid and took some kung fu / tai chi classes in college… but am still very much a beginner), but for me I care more about overall physical functionality (whether I can snowboard, skate, and climb better) and I think resistance stretching really helps in that regard.

    4. I agree that the Bob Cooley and the claims he makes in his book are really… really out there. I am Chinese by heritage (i.e. born in the States to Chinese parents), but still am very strongly skeptical of the Eastern medicine influence that the book has… However, I think Bob still has discovered something here … Tom Longo (my instructor) is all business and actually all of the stretch that he has been do by myself are not in the book as far as I can tell.

    5. Yes I highly recommend partner stretching AND partner mashing (i.e. have someone walk over your tight muscles before you stretch). It will probably be a significant other or something you don’t mind really getting close to because they will be stepping on very personal/sensitive areas of your body… from the adductors by your groin (lie on your stomach on a carpet/rug with your hips twisted slightly to one side, then using a chair/ladder on the far side to take some weigh off, have the person step forward and mash their heel into your adductor *gently* at first), the to serratus muscles in your underarm and other places.

    • My first priority is to do some good partner stretching. Not sure about the mashing yet, before I find someone locally who can teach me the dos and don’ts.

      Actually, flexibility isn’t that crucial for many martial arts. I do lots of self-defence and a bit of competition-style (free fight, muay thai) martial arts, so I can actually do without lots of flexibility. In a self-defence scenario, I would never use high kicks, I think. Still, it’s nice to be able to do them. I did notice that my hip joints felt a lot more mobile since I started with resistance stretching. For some reason, it just feels a lot more comfortable to throw high kicks. Maybe that is also an effect of increased muscular functionality.

  • mmc

    So… what’s new?

    Have you continued resistance stretching?

    Anything of note to report?

    My thanks for your effort put into this.

  • Hi,

    Thanks for a very informative post/series. I have been exploring stretching on and off for many years and have never found anything that really makes a difference, and there is a lot of conflicting advice on stretching about!

    I tend to do mostly Pilates, but am now looking for a good set of stretches for my son (16) who is a superb swimmer. I won’t usethe book you used on principle as I have seen the associated website and I think the overlaid terminology is just confusing and makes a straightforward thing into something confusing.

    However I noticed that Dara Torres the swimmer has tried this type of stretching and have seen some of the videos on youtube, so I have ordered her DVD as it is minus the hype.

    hopefully it will work 🙂

    I will post an update in a month or two.

    cheers
    Tony

  • damian

    Hi,
    Thanks for the information on resistance stretching, it was really well done. I think your results were very impressive. It works out at a 21% improvement in flexibility which is a huge improvement over a month.
    Learning the splits can take several months to a year, I’m sure if you stuck to your program you would achieve them.
    The difference in your side splits could be tight fascia, deep tissue massage can fix that or a body worker who works with fascia like a rolfer.

    How much time did you spend each day stretching? Were you doing the strength resistance as well as the stretch resistance or were you doing just the stretch resistance exercises.
    What exercises were you doing?

    Being that resistance stretching is like isometric stretching it is usually a good idea to have a few days off per week. It’s the relaxing days where your body make the gains. It’s a bit like working out with weights, you need a day off for your body to rest. If your muscles are sore the next day it is a good idea to rest.

    Again thanks for your information it was really interesting reading about your journey.